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ftg3plus4 ftg3plus4 is a male
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Thoughts on "A Briefing for the Ascent" Reply to this Post Post Reply with Quote Edit/Delete Posts Report Post to a Moderator       Go to the top of this page

This album has been on my mind lately, so I thought I'd scribble down my thoughts about it and post them here.

When one member of a band is the sole writer and lead singer on one of their albums, as Terry Taylor was on DA's VOX HUMANA, you might not think his next major move would be to make a solo album. But that's what Terry did, with KNOWLEDGE AND INNOCENCE. Clearly, this was too personal of a work to be a DA album. (Not to mention it wouldn't have fit in with the ALARMA CHRONICLES project that the band was in the midst of.)

Terry himself has described KNOWLEDGE as "an album about death." I don't entirely agree, as only a couple of its songs really deal directly with that subject; I'd describe it more as being an album about Heaven as seen from Earth. At any rate, all of the same descriptions – too personal to be a DA album, an "album about death," an album about Heaven and Earth – can be applied Terry's second album, A BRIEFING FOR THE ASCENT.

Given the personal loss that Terry was facing when writing it, I'm hesitant to judge BRIEFING too harshly. Nonetheless, I was initially disappointed by it. Its predecessor was an absolutely stunning work, with songs that stood out individually while also comprising an impressive whole. In contrast, BRIEFING sounded to me like one big, and rather hazy, lump. All of its songs seemed to have the same sound, feel and mood – dreamy, wistful and echoey.

I've gradually come to appreciate BRIEFING for what it is, though, without making comparisons.

In the album notes Terry talks about singing these songs to his grandmother as she lay dying. Of all the album's songs, the title track is the one I can most easily imagine such a bedside performance of. To me, in fact, this one song so perfectly sums up what the whole album is about that the rest kind of seems smaller in comparison.

I suspect that Terry was focused on comforting his grandmother and was not thinking in terms of writing his next album. This is evidenced by BRIEFING only having seven Terry originals, adding up to rather less than half an hour. The various interludes and the two covers serve to bring the collection to full album length.

Unlike the inexplicably edited CD version, the LP and cassette versions begin with a little skit acted out by Terry (playing "Mr. Borthwick") and, presumably, Greg Flesch (who sounds to me like he can't quite contain his amusement). After this comes the title track, followed by an instrumental interlude that, oddly, doesn't involve Terry as either writer or performer. The next song, "Beyond the Wall of Sleep," has musical touches that, to my ears, evoke a sense of a long-gone world without really sounding like old music – a neat trick, and appropriate for a contemporary song addressed to an elderly person who would be looking back at their life. Somewhat similarly, "Changeless" and "My Love, My Love" subtly evoke music from the late '50s or early '60s, without sounding dated (or even "retro").

"The Wood Between The Worlds" and "Where Dreams Come True" (the latter of which is severely, and pointlessly, edited on the CD version) have titles taken from The Chronicles of Narnia, but they give these phrases totally different meanings from those in the books. The lyrics to the former include a quote which has become a favorite of mine: "I die a little every day I live."

A favorite musical moment of mine is found in the pre-chorus of "Capture Me"; I would have liked to hear this part with different lyrics. (I understand the point of "through a hole in a hand," but it still makes me wince a little.)

The Beatles cover, "Long Long Long," might seem like an odd choice, but Terry basically turns it from a Hindu-ish song to a Christian one just by changing one word.

After an interlude (edited down to almost nothing on the CD), wherein several songs from the album are briefly referenced, the album ends with the classic hymn "Going Home" (references to which are scattered throughout the album). On first listen I was put off by the sound of the old folks' choir, but I've since gotten used to it. Overall, the album's final stretch serves as sort of a mini memorial service for Mrs. Borthwick, and in that context the choir is quite appropriate. (I've always suspected that the singers are people who knew her, although I don't know that for sure.)

One last observation: What do Terry's first two solo albums have in common with Randy Stonehill's BETWEEN THE GLORY AND THE FLAME and WONDERAMA, and the (heavily revised) CD version of Phil Keaggy's WAY BACK HOME? Answer: Each has at least one song about one or both of the artist's maternal grandparents. (For whatever reasons, we never hear anything about their paternal ones.)

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This post has been edited 3 time(s), it was last edited by ftg3plus4: 04-08-2022 09:12.

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Some profound thoughts here. I originally got this album on a tape that a friend had recorded from the LP, as it was never released here in New Zealand as far as I was aware.
I now have the CD version as well. "Knowledge" is a special album for me (I actually have 2 copies on vinyl and one CD) and like you, I was a bit disappointed by "Briefing" initially.
The songs just grow on you, though. Now I really love it even though it's played less than other TST solo albums.

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Jimmy Brown
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A fine write-up there. While I too did not initially like Briefing as well as K&I, I liked it well enough, and it has grown on me over the years. "Changeless" and "Capture Me" were immediately songs that I really liked, though.

The prayer Terry prays is by Cardinal John Henry Newman.

The choir at the end is the Montebello First Baptist Church Choir. I have always assumed that was TST's grandmother's church, but I don't know for sure.

A quick fact about "Goin' Home": The tune is the Largo theme from the 2nd movement of Antonin Dvorak's New World Symphony. He was a Bohemian composer who toured America in the late 19th century, during which he wrote the symphony. The theme is his original, but he intended it to sound like a spiritual.
04-09-2022 12:13 Jimmy Brown is online Search for Posts by Jimmy Brown Add Jimmy Brown to your Buddy List
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